Rex Plumbing and Rooter Ventura, CA

Underground and under slab water leaks

by Rex Thomas Master Plumber

Underground and under slab water leaks

Water leaks can happen at the worst time. There’s probably no time less convenient than a few days after starting escrow to sell a house that’s been on the market for months or years. A customer in Ventura called me a month ago and said they could feel heat through the tile in the downstairs bathroom while walking on their bare feet. Suspecting the presence of a hot water supply leak under the  concrete slab, they placed a service call for me to investigate the issue. Quickly into my inspection, I found water leaking out from under the water heater, but the customer didn’t notice because they were in the process of packing and their view of the water heater was obscured.

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How to determine cold water supply line or hot water supply line leaks

Finding water supply leaks under concrete is very complicated. The first thing to do is check the water meter to see how much it is running without water use in the house. Even if there was no water visible above ground the water meter is always the first thing you check to confirm a water leak. The second part of the process is to turn the water heater off by shutting the emergency valve on top of the tank. If the water meter is still turning, then it is a cold supply line. If the water meter stops, then it is a hot water supply leak.

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Accessing plumbing leaks

Jackhammering tile and floor to repair leaks in the house is always a concern for homeowners, particularly those in the process of selling their homes. I explained I never repair any water supply leaks under the concrete. I always reroute fixtures the leaking pipe is supplying above ground with hard copper through the walls and ceiling. It has been my experience that a repair done on a soft copper pipe under concrete never lasts. Consider the idea of soft copper pipes and hard copper pipes. The soft copper is leaking because the pipe has become thin and weak from general use and from the acidity of the water in Ventura County. A repair is only temporary in this case, because the rest of the pipe is in the same weathered condition as the area that is being repaired.

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Electronic Leak Detection

To sell a home with a water leak underground can not be done, so I provided an estimate to use electronic leak detection to find the source and end of the leaking pipe. All soft copper pipes underground must lead from a manifold above ground to connect to the water supplying the fixture. The manifolds must be found to abandon the leaking water supply. Both ends are located and capped, leaving the piping permanently abandoned.

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Hot water circulator pump

I also noticed the house had a hot water circulator pump mounted next to the water heater. The hot water soft copper piping that the water is circulated through is always the first pipe to leak. Remember that the water is flowing constantly through the piping for the convenience of having hot water instantaneously at whatever fixture is being used. Indeed, it turned out to be the half inch soft copper return piping for the circulator pump that was leaking. After locating the manifold in the wall that connected the hot water return line to the circulator pump, I abandoned it. After removing the pump from the water heater to stop the water leak, they were back in business to sell the house.

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Main hot water supply feed

Another happy customer for my business, or so I thought! Two days after the repair, another hot water slab leak happened again in a different part of the house. It was the main hot water supply feed for the whole house. It’s not uncommon to have other leaks occur in adjacent areas. Remember that the water was circulated throughout the house wearing down all the soft copper underground.

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Complete Copper Repipe

This was now a more serious problem. The entire two story, four bathroom house, including laundry washer and kitchen, all had to be repaired before the closing of escrow or the loan would not be funded for the sale of the house. I started the rest of the leak repairs that same day and it took three weeks to complete with permit and inspection. A total of 191 hours of labor in three weeks to complete! I was able to finish before closing of escrow by hiring a subcontractor to close the walls and ceiling up including painting. This was a tremendous exercise in expert plumbing repair and problem solving. So if you have a circulator pump on your hot water heater, call my company to find out about other options available, before your house also has a hot water leak underground!

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Ventura County Owner-operated Plumbing Service

As you can see, Rex Rooter can provide long-lasting, cost-effective plumbing repairs for any situation that may arise. As an owner-operated plumbing service, you’re guaranteed to receive extremely personable care from the owner and master plumber, me! I sincerely care about any plumbing problems you may be experiencing and my company is committed to providing long lasting, effective repairs, and becoming your trusted Ventura County plumber for years to come.